A Federal High Court in Lagos Friday held that President Muhammadu Buhari dismissed Mrs. Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia as a judicial officer on November 7, 2018.
Justice Mohammed Rilwan Aikawa held that, thus, Ofili-Ajumogobia cannot – by claiming that she is a judge – stall her trial for alleged money laundering.
The charge was brought against her by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),
Justice Aikawa stated this while dismissing Ofili-Ajumogobia’s preliminary objection challenging her trial as well as the court’s jurisdiction to try her.
The judge read out the President’s memo of November 7, 2018, approving Ofili-Ajumogobia’s dismissal from the Bench as recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
He said: “The president has approved the recommendation of NJC and has therefore approved the dismissal of the 1st defendant/applicant.
“In my view, the first defendant (Ofili-Ajumogobia) has been dismissed as a judicial officer.
“In the light of this, she can stand trial as she is no longer a judicial officer.
“The application lacks merit and is accordingly dismissed” the judge held.
Earlier in the ruling, the judge disagreed with the argument of the first defendant’s counsel that the exhibit marked ‘Restricted’ is a private document.
He held that the document exhibit EFCC 02, though marked ‘Restricted’ but bearing the coat of arm of Federal Republic of Nigeria qualified it as a public document.
“An official letter from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Chief Justice of Nigeria is a public document,” Justice Aikawa said.
Referring to the trial of the defendants at the Ikeja High Court of Lagos State, Justice Aikawa said in that judgement, the case was only struck out.
“The defendants in that trial were not discharged and acquitted.
He held that they could therefore be re-arraigned before another court if the prosecution wishes to reopen the case.
On issue of the matter in the Appeal Court, the judge said provisions of ACJA had not rendered trial in the matter invalid.
Consequently, the court rejected Obla’s first prayer.
It also refused the second leg of the application.
In conclusion, Justice Aikawa held: “The trial of the two defendants will go together. I therefore refuse the second application.
After the ruling, prosecution counsel Rotimi Oyedepo made an oral application for accelarated hearing of the matter. He prayed for a date for commencement of trial.
After conferring with the defence counsel comprising Mr F.O. Dawodu (SAN), for first defendant, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) and Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), for 2nd defendant, a date was agreed on.
Justice Aikawa then adjourned the matter to October 24 and 25 for commencement of trial.
The EFCC charged Ofili-Ajumogobia and a Senior Advocate of NIGERIA (SAN) Godwin Obla, on 18 counts bordering on Conspiracy, Unlawful Enrichment, retention of Crime Proceeds and Money Laundering.
They pleaded not guilty and were each admitted to bail in the sum of N10 million with two sureties in like sum.
The defendants were first brought before an Ikeja division of the High Court of Lagos State which struck out the charge on jurisdictional grounds.
The EFCC then preferred same charges against them at the Federal High Court.
In the charge, EFCC alleged that the defendants conspired on May 21, 2014, to indirectly conceal different sums of money, in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel & Colive Ltd, a company alleged to be operated by Ajumogobia.
They were further alleged to have conspired to retain in same account, the sum of N500 million, which they both reasonably ought to have known formed part of proceeds of unlawful acts of unlawful enrichment.
Specifically, Ajumogobia was alleged to have on different dates in 2014, retained sums of monies like: N5million, 150,000 dollars, 20,000 dollars, 30,000 dollars, 50,000 dollars, and 55,000 dollars in the Diamond bank account of Nigel and Colive.
Besides, the Commission also accused Ajumogobia of indirectly concealing the sum of N12million in the same account, and making false statement to the EFCC that the money was payment for sale of a landed property.
The alleged offences contravene the provisions of Sections 15 (2) (a) and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act.